Blown Away By Beirut

Sorry. Cheap shot. But explosiveness aptly defines both the clichéd western expectations I had of the Lebanese capital before I visited, as a war-torn outpost of wild-eyed militants high on holy righteousness and maggoty shawarma; and the disruptive impact of discovering, after working there last week, that it is, in fact, a seriously special city I could stay in for a long long time.

Sure, the Lebanese government collapsed while I was there, prompting predictable warnings of sectarian violence. But the response of my excellent host and Beirut native Antoine Naaman can best be summed up as 'meh'. That evening, as we ate tabbouleh by the delicious bowlful - the proper stuff, not London's dry, pseudo-Morrocan couscous with flecks of dried herb but a glistening jewelled dome of parsley, mint, tomato and onion doused in the sharp sweetness of lemon and oil - as if the world might end before we scarfed another meal, I began to understand that instability may breed short-sightedness and fear, but it also inculcates passion, creativity and a glinting, razor-edged joy.

I quite simply loved the place, although admittedly it would be hard not to love somewhere that has 5000 years' worth of architectural, cultural and social sediment layered onto a Mediterranean peninsula that is in turn sandwiched between sun-baked beach and snow-topped mountain range.

Post-Doha Beirut is a rather eerie mixture of slick regeneration, complete with Disneyfied 'new souks' and that ultimate symbol of nylon-clad civilisation, H&M; and stark beauty, which comes from ranka of crumbling corpse-buildings that stare blankly down at the tourist herd through bullet holes like so many foreboding Tiresian eyes. But the two worlds, the two intentions - the past and the maybe-future - create a uniquely moving present. This city cannot help but be authentic, however many Pradas you pass on the way to Bourj el-Barajneh.

Whatever you do, don't drive. But do eat, and dance, and explore - the hedonism of Beirut's fashion and nightlife matches the hardship of its dusty daytime grind - and spend as much time as you can talking to people who live there.

They're so eager for outsiders to realise that Beirut may sometimes wear a flak jacket, but she is also corseted with ancient silk, and topped with a bright mantle of Mediterranean hope and love.

I'm going back as soon as I can.